Category Archives: Teaching

Utilitarianism and Technology?

As I read Dave Clark’s “Shaped and Shaping Tools,” I was immediately brought back to rhetorical theory class with Dr. Dana Heller at Old Dominion University. I envisioned the chalkboard (yes, that long ago!) with drawing about sign, symbol and signifier of de Saussure  and interpretrent, representamen and object of Charles Sanders Pierce.

 

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Of course, I teach my students how to write a rhetorical analysis in some of my composition classes, but we usually don’t delve into theory, so I enjoyed reading about it again in another graduate class, albeit 20 years later, and to learn about applying it to technologies. According to Clark,  rhetorical  analysis is “a loose grouping of related types of work that share a common goal: complicating common-sense understandings of technologies by analyzing them from a variety of rhetorical perspectives that demonstrate their immersion in social and rhetorical perspectives that demonstrate their immersion in social and rhetorical processes” ( 2010, pg. 92-3). Clark discusses how the classical rhetorical approach can be effective; however “Johnson suggests that as a field we must argue for a rhetorical approach to technological design and implementation that places the users, rather than the systems, at the center of our focus. . .(2010, p. 93). I agree, for when I teach my students about technical writing, I  have them focus on audience, purpose and context. This line of thinking done before drafting is similar to one who designs and builds technology. Those designers must consider the user, their purpose and the context of which they will use that technology. When I have my students write website reviews, they critique the design, function, userability, etc. as it relates to the user. These reviews are written for a website designer in order to make the website more appealing and functional for the users.

If one is going to create technology, it is only logical to consider the audience who will use that technology, how they will use that technology and with whom they will use that technology. Therefore, activity theory considers groups and individuals who “are analyzed with a triangular approach that emphasizes the multidirectional interconnections among subjects, the mediational means or the tools they use to take action and the object or problem space on which the subject acts” (Clark, 2010, 98-99).

So, since technology emerged and reshaped man’s ability to communicate and complete tasks, the rhetoric of technology had to emerge and be shaped to meet the more complex world we live in.  There is an obvious correlation between classic rhetorical theory and activity theory of technology today.activity_theory_triangle_engestrom

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Technology today is embedded in our lives and we need to examine the contexts in which we rely on them in order to understand, assess and design them in order for ease and use of their users.

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Digital Literacy Embraced

Earlier this week I was chatting with one of my superiors who was visiting the regional campus from where I taught my IDL class that day. Of course, she asked me about my class (since I am required to take classes to keep my Speech certification). I told her what we have been discussing and told her about the case study I am doing on Western’s use of social media etc. She asked me what I thought of their Twitter posts. I mentioned that I enjoyed the content, but the spelling and grammar mistakes are plentiful. Her response was that in the more technical fields, grammar and spelling are second to content. I pointed out that the president of the college just tweeted and it contained an obvious error. She scoffed and said it was no big deal. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut, but I told her that Western’s Twitter followers may not share her view about spelling and grammar since many would see that as lacking an eye for detail or incompetence. He expression changed and she proceeded to a back office. So, I revisited that conversation when I read Dicks’ article, “The Effects of Digital Literacy” and his quote of Moore and Kreth (2005) stating “The days of being grammar cops, wordsmiths, and software applications experts are not over for technical communicators, but those skills are diminishing in value. . . ” (2010, pg 54).

Perhaps the English instructor in me has difficulty with letting those skills fall into second. I imagine many technical communicators may feel the same way. However, with the changes in responsibilities for technical communicator’s, I can see having to let something go. . . perhaps one has to put away the grammar cop badge and focus on other areas.

So many changes have occurred over the last 30 years, but many significant changes in the last decade have really eliminated many responsibilities of what I perceived many technical communicators do. In fact, I recently changed a writing assignment in one of my classes to a website review. I figured it would give them more of a technical view of writing and also get them to see what is considered when devising and evaluating a website[ Audience, purpose and content (as is for other types of communication)] verses an essay. The students (typical college students at a UW school) are much more engaged on this assignment since most are more technology-minded.

Technical communication is changing so rapidly, I am not sure I can keep up. I can’t imagine how challenging it must be for someone who has been in the field for 30 years. Dicks’ states, “Technical communicators watched some people leave the profession because they chose not to change the way they worked and because they insisted that true writing involved writing for paper (2010, pg 76). I see the same happening in my field. Some instructors at Western refuse to teach Online or IDL classes and refuse to use Blackboard. I find that a bit ironic since it is a technical college; however, it benefited me since I don’t mind teaching in either mode. I was pleased to hear that the college is finally making all instructors at least use Blackboard next year. Also, in some disciplines, faculty will have to teach Online or IDL if needed. Some may see it as an infringement of their rights (which I don’t understand), but technology is changing the workplace, not just for technical communicators, but for those of us teaching people who need some or all the skills of that field.

 

 

Epiphany on Professional & Personal Evolution

I include “Their Brains Were Small and They Died”, a 1993 folk song from “Cows with Guns”, as a soundtrack for this week’s reflection. It’s intended to be humorous and a cautionary tale on what happens when there is no evolution. That’s a disclaimer as my intent is not insult anyone.

“You’re just a technical writer”.

This accusation from a co-worker (with dangerous presumptions of her own credibility and skills), as well as Rachel Spilka’s  choices for her Digital Literacy for Technical Communication  (2010) and conversations in the past week with my wife (also a professional communicator) and my students have led to an epiphany.

If I am to evolve as a professional, if I am to thrive as a teacher, it doesn’t matter what I think of social media. It doesn’t matter that I believe government-by-tweet is dangerous to democracy and that I continue to find Howard Rheingold and the work of Zuboff and Maxmin described in R. Stanley Dicks’ article to be “increasingly optimistic and even utopian revelries about the resulting world”. (R. Stanley Dicks (2010), “The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work” p. 57)

What matters is what I do to help my students be credible communicators and that I help Network Health Plan employees communicate more effectively and access information in channels and methods most comfortable to them. Being open to new facets of “digital literacy” is key. (I did appreciate Spilka’s analysis of how she settled on her use of the term.)

For example, because I’m enamored of American history, I tend to use Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy as touchpoints. (No, I don’t play Dion’s song from 1968.) My students, on average, not only don’t know the references but they tend to think that the world started 20 years ago. I have made a radical upgrade in references (including not mentioning how much I miss my abacus and slide rule).

Turning to the reading, the epiphany started with the very first page of Saul Carliner’s “Computers and Technical Communication in the 21st Century”. Like Carliner, my career in technical communication started with software documentation and has seldom strayed from that industry. I, too, have experienced the same change in duties and expectations as did Carliner.

In 1983, when I started in business-industrial communications, my role was, indeed, “just a technical writer”. The job required accepting Subject Matter Expert’s inputs, nearly exclusively in hard copy. Then I was to “fill in the blanks” applying corporate styles of appearance and content. My first technology-based tool was the then-revolutionary IBM system (green screen where a “return” was the same as a typewriter carriage return).

Fast forwarding through the last two decades, ever-evolving technology has enabled any stakeholder in a communication project to contribute content in nearly ready-to-use format (if not coherence or relevance).
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While not as draconian as “Evolve or die”, I found, just as Carliner describes, that I needed to be more than “just a technical writer” especially if I wanted to earn more than the $15 per hour that was, at the time, pretty much the standard wage. I paralleled exactly what Carliner experienced and my role became closer to the traditional roles of Business Analyst, Project Manager, and Content Management Administrator. I achieved that diversification of skills through classwork, do-it-yourself learning, and volunteering to take on tasks outside of my prescribed job.

That evolution in roles continues today where one of my goals is to empower my colleagues to produce more original content so I can concentrate on the delivery.

Not your mom’s Web 2.0

 

Although I felt I had a good grasp on using the web (and some forms of social media)  really did not understand its full potential, history and cultural influence until this class. This week’s particular readings engaged me into researching articles to learn even more. I feel like I discovered a new world, and at the same time, wonder how I could have limited my vision over the years.

First of all, although I find the web, social media etc. informative and entertaining, I never truly saw it for all it’s worth —  for its communication and collaborative abilities as discussed in Rheingold’s Net Smart. Now I understand and agree with Wayne Macphail’s statement, “You need coordination to dance, cooperation to dance with a partner, and collaboration to dance with a flash mob” (Rheingold, 2014, pg. 153). Himmelman’s Taxonomy of Networking, Coordination, Cooperation and Collaboration helps me understand how online communication works to bring people together, share ideas, learn, explore and more. e218_ol_fig7_01

(Partnerships and Network)

In fact, I immediately related it to my teaching pedagogy. My classes do incorporate  networking activities by chatting with other students; coordination activities by sharing resources helpful for class; cooperation by peer revision/editing and online class discussions; and collaboration by creating a group wiki or project.

From observing my kids’ (ages 16, 21 and 30) online interactions, I see they even use their social media in the same way. For example, my son uses his Facebook and Instagram to to network and meet other teenagers who share similar interests in music (jazz and rap) and sports (football and basketball). He has joined social groups to delve into those interests more. This has led him to collaborating with others he wouldn’t normally meet. He now has friends he creates music with and with whom he either physically meets to play a sport or plays fantasy football with or even plays with on Xbox. He may not socialize the way I did as a teenager, but he is definitely communicating with others on a variety of levels through differing modes of communication.

These communication skills are essential in today’s world, for it can lead to innovation as

a result of collective intelligence. Yes, the idea of collective intelligence is not new. In Harnessing Crowds: Mapping the Genome Collective Intelligence article, MIT Center for Collective Intelligence not only reviews basic Web enabled collective intelligence, but also examines more modern examples and the structure that leads to their success. Although MIT’s “map” gives a  clear picture of how collective intelligence works, it does coincide with Rheingold’s useful tool’s discussed in chapter 4 of Net Smart.

On another note, in the article above, MIT Center for Collective Intelligence discusses examples of collective intelligence such as having a YouTube channel:”In YouTube, every user is associated with a “channel.” On these channels, users can upload their own videos and/or link to selections of other users’ videos, via a favorites option. Users can subscribe to other users’ channels and receive notifications when their favorite channels have been updated. Users thus form social networks that affect their choices of what videos to watch.” In this way, You Tube can help expand the knowledge of a group. However, in “DIY Videos on You Tube: Identity and Possibility in the Age of Algorithms, ” Christine T. Wolf examines “. . . how the social and material aspects of YouTube are entangled in search practices, we can see how these experiences might work to narrow, rather than widen, individuals’ information worlds.” Nonetheless, I imagine that this is not the case with most modern forms of web-based collective intelligence.

The use of collective intelligence and crowdsourcing has been quite prevalent (unbeknownst to me) in the business world. I have found several blogs and articles online about  how “In today’s marketing community crowdsourcing is often seen as a modern marketing technique due to its technological influences” ( Mateika).

Kaytie Zimmerman says, “The idea of crowdsourcing is fairly new, with the term only being coined within the last decade. Because it is so cutting edge, millennials have comfortably taken on the idea as part of their daily lives” ( Zimmerman). So, since my students (many going into business) consists largely of millenials, I am interested in learning more about crowdsourcing and how I can incorporate this new knowledge into my classes.

 

Blurring Physical and Digital Lines

 

 

Instructor

In response to an earlier blog, Dr. Pignetti commented about being interested in how I will incorporate what I learn from this course into my own pedagogy. Of course, I have had this on my mind as I re-evaluate my audience, revise old lesson plans, create new activities on Blackboard and strive to be student-centered instructor.  As I read Longo’s “Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making,,” I struggled with the assumption that all students participate in social media, especially since much the research etc. was from over five years ago. However, I do realize, he is assuming students are traditional university students age 18-23, and most likely students from urban, not rural, environments. However, I do recognize the “participatory culture” of this generation even in a rural area where I teach. Prior to this reading though, I had not equated this culture with social-media. Nonetheless, I realize without making that connection, my pedagogy does include “this participatory approach to teaching and learning based on the idea that most students learn more effectively through the incorporation of experiential activities” ( Longo, 2014, pg 30). Perhaps my high school teaching experience has influenced teaching style of my college classes. Usually the traditional lecture sets the stage and provides background and then students join in the teaching/learning.

Longo acknowledges “the balancing act that becomes acute in active learning environments,” where students learn collaboratively, yet the professor is still the authority of the class content. When my students work in groups online, I am included in the forum and have access to their chat room. I do not dominate the conversation or guide them to certain conclusions per se, but do check that they are on task and ask questions to further their collaboration.  I have used the tools in Blackboard to do this, such as Blackboard Collaborate, Blogs, Wikis, discussion rooms and chat. I haven’t included forms of social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc. since there is such an age gap and technological skill gap among students. In addition, there is no time available in the curriculum to teach how to use social media.

Student

Many of my younger students reflect the participatory culture and desire to share on the first day of classes. For example, they often immediately share their phone numbers, snapchat id, and full names in order to connect on Facebook. My older students are less likely to welcome this technological communication or enter that community. However, since my classes all have an online component, even these students quickly adjust to participating in the online community of our class and classmates and their lives. However, I still find that it is imperative for many of my returning adult students to actually meet me face-to-face. Therefore, I travel to the five regional locations. Since Blackboard now can include our picture with our posts etc., that desire doesn’t seem as prominent. It could also be because I have been including more video with clips of me in them, perhaps helping blur the lines between physically space and digital space.

Colleagues

Although my communication with present students is either face-to-face, on a screen due to IDL or online via Blackboard, my communication with my colleagues at the main campus in LaCrosse includes social media. Because my position requires me to travel to various regional learning centers or work from home, my communication with my colleagues does extend outside formal settings. We do communicate via email, blogs, Sharepoint, Skype, Facebook, Instagram etc., and I do move “across textual and social resources during one work session” (Pigg, 2014, pg. 75). Since we have been doing this, I do feel more included since I am only physically with my department two times a year.

 

Adapting our Lives in a Web 2.0 World

All three readings this week seemed to focus on the ways that the world has adapted to social media and services.  In the workplace, our education system, and our personal lives, we have changed how we interact and communicate with each other. There are also new opportunities that social media and services can give us that we have no fully explored yet.  This leads to the question; how can we fully take advantage of these new opportunities when we do not fully understand how much or little limitations we have?  I will explore aspects of success and failure with both education and work-related adaptations to online services and social media.

Education

The classroom is no longer limited to school hours or physical boundaries.  Online classes and academic services used by schools are helping education reach and accommodate more students.  Ferro et al. argues that education has expanded to be more inclusive and participatory.  Students do not have to wait until class starts, as online resources can help them keep in close communication.  Online forums for classes have always been helpful for commonly asked questions by students to help everyone involved in the class more efficiently share knowledge and misunderstandings in coursework.

I cannot argue that using online services for school isn’t helpful, but I do feel like it has a long way to go.  With the budget limitations every education system has, it is difficult to quickly improve and create a more efficient online educational environment.  I am currently enrolled in two Universities and taking online courses with both.  The other University I am getting my Master’s degree in computer science.  Compared to my bachelors which was all in person, this experience has been much more of an independent journey.  Half of the fun of college was meeting people and talking to them about literally anything but school.   I do think that online courses can be improved in relation to this.  For example, what if we were provided with, encouraged, or expected to use an active communication service, like a chat service, to get to know each other and collaborate with better.  Forums and email give us passive communication, and this can lead to students and teachers only discussing what they need to get work completed.  It feels much less likely we will actually get to know small details about each other when we have our real lives offline.  Longo states that community can be as much “an act of exclusion as it is an inclusion” (p. 5).  It seems as though the online classroom has created a community that is more academic than social.

Work

When reading Pigg’s article about distributed work I was quite surprised in the direction that was taken. I thought it would focus on a company like mine with offshore workers, but instead it was much simpler.  The study on Dave and his fatherhood blog was completely inspiring.  I was very impressed by his ability to establish a niche community in a boundary-less environment of the internet.  I love that the internet gives a voice to people like this.  In the book industry, you may have the best idea, but getting published is still chalked up to luck.  Now we have this uncharted opportunity to be both a writer and an entrepreneur.  Being successful may still have to do with luck, but getting your work into a public domain is trivial.

Pigg also brings up room for improvement in the work environment especially when considering employees restrictions involving “cyberslacking” and internet monitoring.   Although it may be obvious that certain websites may be inappropriate for work, the nature of my job relies heavily on access to multiple services and social media sites.  One example is that we have Skype and most chat options blocked on our internal network.  Half of my team members live in Maryland whom I have to call daily, so we end up creatively huddling around phones and sharing web communication tool accounts just to do our jobs.  Additionally, integration with certain social media sites can be required depending on the projects we are working on.  To do this we have to ask special permission from IT to do jobs assigned to us.  Ferro et al. explores the expanding usage of social media and online services that people use to complete their jobs today.  It looks as though we will need to reevaluate our approach and the tradeoffs of restrictions vs. employee efficiency.

Both work and education have gone through a lot of trial and error in order to adapt and take advantage of online technologies.  Although there seem to be a lot of potential innovations, these aspects of our lives have budgetary limitations that cannot afford error.  At the rate technology is changing these parts of our lives may never fully embrace the newest capabilities available, but they are definitely opening up new opportunities.

Breaking mindset

This is my first course for my certificate requirements. I wasn’t totally sure I would “fit” into the MSTPC program since my background is literature, and I have limited experience with technical writing and media. I saw it as a challenge of my boundaries of knowledge. However, as a reader of some of the class material, I felt I was not part of the target audience since I am not familiar with technical writer jargon etc. Of course, if a reader cannot relate to the material, it is a struggle to maintain interest and focus. Nonetheless, I kept on reading. As I was reading Blythe, Lauer and Curran’s “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” I began to relate, to focus and to reflect.

I teach mainly composition at a technical college, yet we still devise our composition classes as if they were for a four-year college. I have had some of my students complain about having to take one writing class since they felt it didn’t pertain to their program. Of course, in the end they understand that any writing genre (mainly essays) will help them communicate more effectively in their careers. However, the set curriculum may not be sufficient if many of my technological-minded students are going into careers where more technical writing would be the norm.

A student who graduates from a technical school is more apt to be required to write similar forms of communication as mentioned in Blyth, Lauer and Curran’s report. Figure 1 (Blythe, Lauer and Curran, 2014, p. 273) lists research papers only on the bottom of the type most valued column; whereas, emails, instruction manuals, websites, presentations and blogs are at the top of both the list of most often used and most valued. So, perhaps I can begin making changes in my courses to meet the future needs of my students.

 

I am not discounting the value of essay writing and the objectives of our mandatory writing courses, for it does require the skills needed to do many of the more technical forms of writing. However, perhaps exposing students to other genres of writing would be beneficial in that it may attract the interest of a more tech-savvy (or interested) audience and may lead students to feel like they are getting more out of their course that they can apply directly to their programs and future careers.

 

Perhaps being a student again (not originally by choice) has reminded me of how my students feel when entering my required classes. Plus, this class is broadening my understanding of writing and the value of different forms of communicating in today’s technical world. Hopefully, my students will feel the same.

Cultural Honesty in a Digital Reality

Hi ENGL 745 compatriots!

We have reached the end of the semester and it has been a long time coming. Looking at the web, digital literacy, and the effect of technology on society and relationships has caused me to ask a lot of questions.

Chief among them, how much of an effect does the ease of online and transnational communication have on intercultural communication and discourse?

icc

Source: (https://www.dal.ca/dept/interculturalcommunication.html)

Does it matter to anyone? Is it in any way our job to question the short-term and long-term effects our digital reality has brought?

Yes, of course it is. As technical communicators, we work in a field that runs on our ability to analyze trends in technology, craft content that has a global audience, and manage communications (social media, technical writing, editing, translation, etc) that represents both ourselves, our companies and clients, and our audience.

As audience members, we must also be aware of what we are taking part in, what we are allowing with the continued subsistence on technology and digital communications.

It is more important than ever that digital literacy become a focal point for study and reflection. Not just for those of us choosing this career. Not just for the audience members who have an interest in the cause-and-effect relationship society now plays with technology. But for every man, woman, and child to take an active part in educating themselves.

You also have to ask yourself: is this really a problem? It is a fact that in order to get something – a job, a car, a house, an education, security, we have to sacrifice something else – manpower, time, money, even more money, free will. It is the nature of the beast.

So in order to have almost worldwide communication, it makes sense that we would have to sacrifice the cultural minutiae, beliefs, axioms, concepts, ideas, and linguistic foibles that speak to a greater identity and connection to history, race, gender, nationality in order to be widely understood. In order to take part in the conversations that are taking place around us (anyone with an Internet connection and the ability to communicate is instantly apart of a greater whole), how we interact with content as consumers, creators, managers, and technical communicators comes from being able to understand and be understood in turn.

So what does this mean for us and for a world of people constantly online?

There are methods to become more culturally sensitive. Professionally, there are training sessions and programs and a gaggle of Human Resources personnel ready and willing to stamp their workforce as “actively seeking diverse candidates and new ideas.”

Academically, there are courses and programs designed around international and intercultural communication like the one at the University of Denver. Our program has two classes along these lines though they are not mandatory and have not been taught in a few years.

We used to be content with our letters. Reading and writing meant power and opportunity. That is no longer the case. Literacy is still not at 100% but digital literacy has become just as important for us all to learn.

web_iicpaintedface

Source: http://www.du.edu/ahss/mfjs/programs/graduate/iic.html)

If there is one other thing I have taken away from this class it’s that I am definitely going to be starting a blog for the new year. This medium is so flexible and a great mix of text and visuals.

It’s been an adventure these past few weeks. I hope everyone has a great end of the semester and rings out the rest of 2016 in style. Happy Holidays to everyone!

Social Media Collaboration and Symbolic Work

This week’s articles evaluated and iterated social media’s convergence of collaborative, collective knowledge and symbolic analytic work for business and personal purposes.

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Mobile Social Media Apps. Image courtesy of OnCloudOne.com

Symbolic and Distribution

Stacey Pigg’s (2014) “Coordinating Constant Invention: Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work” analyzed how one freelance blogger used several social media sites to draft a blog and maintain relationships and conversations with other networks. The symbolic analyst, according to Reich (as cited in Pigg, 2014) “involves creative and critical thinking and managing information” from different sites/places. Writing these weekly blogs are an example of symbolic work according to Reich’s definition and if I shared this blog on other social media sites, it would be “distributed” to other audiences. However, distribution is also important to maintain conversations with other social media sites. For example, monitoring sites where one has posted or commented previously to check if others have continued the conversation. Often found on blog sites and LinkedIn, these conversations not only further conversation, but they also provide collective knowledge and can lead to collaboration. Pigg (2014) states, “Social media are common  places not only for creating ideas and texts but identify and professional trajectory are continually invented…” (p. 84). Specifically, where personal and professional interactions meet online but also contribute to symbolic work.

Collective Knowledge and Collaboration

Bernadette Longo (2014), Toni Ferro and Mark Zachary (2014) examined collective knowledge through the use of social media by following the theory of “one to many” shared ideas and experiences contribute to greater knowledge as a whole. Longo (2014) begins with “New technologies for making and sharing information in a variety of media have made it easy for users to tell their own stories and share their knowledge across media” (p. 22). This holds true for both crap detection and authentic collaboration. We’ve seen the string of comments after a blog post or hastily shared news article that piques our interest. However, collaborative spaces like LinkedIn and Facebook groups also contribute to specific knowledge-making goals for its members. This knowledge is then shared outside the group and invites further conversation and knowledge-making. Ferro and Zachary (2014) affirm,

“Understanding the ways in which knowledge workers are employing social software can help technical communicator scholars understand the changes taking place in knowledge work in general as well as in workplace communication” (p. 9).

Ferro and Zachary (2014) also propose, “What are we teaching students and what do they need to learn for post grad job positions?” and How can we help them (students) engage in critical thinking when using social media – as contributors, collaborators, and users? (p. 19). Longo (2014) attempts to answer these questions, but it’s not without similar regards for recognizing the shared learning experiences from both instructor and student. Longo (2014) says as educators, we create a culture for learning in listening to our students experience and knowledge of social media and our own experiences that contributes to knowledge as a whole (p. 31).

What Do We Expect from the Internet and Why Do We Expect that?

Thinking about how information is aggregated and shared online is a must, both as digital consumers and as technical communicators. But how do we make sense of it all?

We start by listening to Zittrain’s presentation. As he spoke on the “Is The Internet Taking Us Where We Want to Go?” panel, there were definitely a lot of interesting ideas spoken. The one that I want to talk about at length is the idea of Google and other Search Engines as “information fiduciaries.”

By using the examples of searching for information about vaccines and Jew, he starts to develop ideas about how we use Google and how it should be formatted at the back end in order to act in a more responsible and sanitized way. Now, when he talks about the search algorithms and the reality of Facebook programmers having the power to influence events and attention by manipulating the way the News Feeds shares and loads information, there are definite causes for concern.

We know that there are people creating and managing the content and websites we traffic on a daily basis. As technical communicators, it may be in some of our job descriptions to act as the information gatekeepers and analytic experts. Even our work on the blog represents this fact when we get down to bare bones. Our job is to use our assigned readings and real life experiences to craft content and drive attention to this site.  But how much of a look behind the curtain do we need to have or be aware of in order to be truly effective as technical professions and savvy as consumers? The answer is…to be determined. Zattrain uses examples such as mugshot.com and Amazon sellers to talk about how information is not just manipulated by the technology we use to access it, but also affected and altered by the consumers as they access it and use it for their own needs.

Image result for analytic algorithms

Source: (http://openclassroom.stanford.edu/MainFolder/CoursePage.php?course=IntroToAlgorithms)

But he continues to talk about search engines and our thinking when we interact with them. “Are they just tools or are they our friends as well? In my mind, the idea of Google as a friend is ridiculous. It seems to just be another way to remove the impetus of the user and place all of the blame on the technology that exists.

The idea of “being mad at Google” as Zittrain posits seem like a useless endeavor to me. Google is not Siri. It is not Cortana. It is a method for us to learn information and get our questions answered. To demand, or even suggest that Google constantly alter its coding to be more sensitive to potential audiences and potential searches would hamstring the service and all of us who use the service.

It is up to us as users to learn how to navigate the digital arena we live in now. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. We should not be willing to give up the autonomy of a “clean” interface for the idea of a more politically correct atmosphere. Even if that were something a majority of users or providers could agree upon, when so many users dependent on Google for answers, someone is bound to be offended unless we act like other countries and give the government control over which sites we can visit.

In my work, I do not work directly with websites or search engines, but I do use them as a source when I perform my research. It is my job to weed through the articles, pages, and offerings of sites like Google and other search engines in order to produce the best-researched product for my supervisors and my audience. If I felt in any way limited in my choices, however much I may already be unconsciously, I would have a hard time depending on the service to meet my needs in the future.

Image result for manipulating content

Source: (http://www.giantfreakinrobot.com/sci/facebook-scientists-experimented-users-manipulating-content.html)

In terms of talking about learning, I definitely agree with his closing point about the change in thinking that needs to occur among academics. If you read my previous post, you can tell that I have had a bit of a mixed bag relationship with educational institutions. I know that there is still a place for professors and other experts to instruct students; I decided to enter this program because I know that there are things I don’t know and find interacting with other professionals and technical communicators as we learn skills, competencies, and how to frame the questions and perform the research to delve into the topics of social media, rhetorical theory, and project management. There does have to be the realization that expertise in a field is a lot harder now than in the past.

The information we all have access to does not make us PhDs, but it does put the onus on the educators to continue pushing themselves in their fields, ask questions, poll professionals, and yes be open to the idea that a student twenty years younger than them can be an authority they should listen to.

Overall, there were a lot of ideas working in the presentation. A lot of which connect to what we are doing in this class and in the workforce as technical communicators. In your opinion, should we expect Google and other search engines, like Bing, Yahoo, and DogPile (does anyone else remember this), to be more conscious of what the algorithm is spitting out? Or should it provide us with the raw output and leave the decision making process up to us?

Collective Intelligence in the New Age

Working together can create more meaning and bring more understanding of the world around us. The ideas in Chapter 4 of Net Smart by Rhiengold (2012) especially regarding collective intelligence and the function of the Internet to create communities, groups, and audiences that create a deeper meaning of what is happening around them is very powerful and applicable to our work with analyzing and reviewing social media principles as well as our work as technical communicators.

I have heard complaints from the generation before mine, professors, staff members, and students that came before, that the way we learn and take in information currently does not take the same amount of effort and time that it used to, thus we are as a whole not as smart as we could be, as they had to be in the world before the World Wide Web.

I wholeheartedly disagree. Are things different? Definitely. For the most part, we do not have to deal with card catalogs and worrying about not obtaining the library book we need because someone already has it out. But what we do have is mountains of information at our fingertips that needs to be read through, researched, analyzed, and ultimately accepted or discarded as useful to the project that need to be completed.

Thinking about it as the natural reaction our society has had to the advent of technology and connectedness, collective intelligence seems like a great place for us to be in.

“Now that we have gained access to digital tools that enable us to share what we know and aggregate small contributions into large knowledge repositories, a new level of collective intelligence is possible” (p. 160).

Just as a reality, it is fascinating how much I find myself depending on the opinions and knowledge of others in my personal and professional life.

I read Yelp reviews and will search through a few pages for tips and tricks about shopping: how to do it effectively, where to go for the best prices, and when to go to avoid the most foot traffic.

I use my coworkers as sounding boards when working on projects, running edits, changes, style issues, and new copy by one or more people to see how they react, even when we’re working on completely different projects.

This trend is so important to the way we think about knowledge and learning. It may seem like an obvious idea. We learn currently from teachers and professors, those who go to school and study techniques specifically to learn how to instruct and impart knowledge on others, but to my mind there is still so much stigma associated with the spirit of collective intelligence in schoolwork.

Beginning your career as a student, you do not learn that it is your right, I would say responsibility, to question the font of knowledge: a teacher. In order to retain control over groups of wild children, teachers must be seen as the ultimate authority in their spaces. As you grow older and become more comfortable with yourself and the idea that you have to have your own opinions and thoughts about the world around you, you are inundated with cultural norms and taboos. They are subjects you can’t bring up in public without receiving a negative reaction: sex, politics, and religion. There are other subjects that only apply to you and place you into a subgroup: race, gender, sex, socio-economic status, ethnicity.

By high school you have hopefully learned all the rules, overtly taught to you and covertly gathered by osmosis and have gone through puberty so hopefully you have become a version of yourself that can function in society. You have created PowerPoints and book reports and scientific models. But beyond being forced into groups by your teachers, it is still up to the teacher as the superior figure to create meaning and focus your attention on the facts and figures that you need to know.

That long analogy is meant to draw attention to the fact that with the Internet and social media, it is up to us to create meaning and monitor the information and knowledge being influenced and cultivated around us. I cannot say with complete certainty that children are reacting differently in classes. There are thousands of studies and reports about classroom teaching and management that are authored about the changes going on in classrooms because of technology and the Internet.

What works for me is the idea that we are demanding more of our teaching professionals and of ourselves than we have before. Yes, the Internet gives everyone a platform to shout their opinions from the rooftop (leading to a degradation of fields like traditional print media). It also gives us the ability to share what we know with each other, outside of the limits of a roundtables and desks with tiny chairs. Even outside the bounds of an online course taught by a PhD.

Rheingold, Howard. (2014).  Net Smart: How to thrive online. MIT Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.

What Do We Learn? Skills. When Do We Learn Them? On the Job or Whatever!

Working as a technical communicator over the past two years without an undergraduate grounding in the skills, methods, and research tools has been enlightening. While it has given me a greater appreciation for the work being done by my coworkers and others in the field, it has also caused me to reach out to sources like the Society for Technical Communication and a master’s program in order to secure essential skills and new tricks to show off to supervisors and future employers.

What exactly am I looking for, you may ask? Social media, content management systems, Adobe Creative and Technical Communications Suite, User-Centered Design, and Project Management, to name but a few. Beyond the skills that I have a personal interest in or am curious about, I find that trolling through job descriptions to look for what will impress and keep me relevant in a community that is designing, defining, and streamlining what technical communications means and what is necessary to work in the field.

One of the key skills I am looking to pick up from the MSTPC program and put into practice is learning how to learn, and I have found that it is definitely a critical skill that I’ll need on my side moving forward.

Image result for technical toolkit

Source: (http://masstapp.edc.org/communications-toolkit)

As Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski (2010) said, “search and retrieval – or findability – as well as navigability become increasingly important as the information age produces more documents than ever. As the volume of information increases, designing for storage and retrieval becomes more important in the planning stages of writing. After all, information that cannot be easily retrieved when needed is useless” (103).

Now this makes sense when you’re talking about the basics of the technical communications field. Authoring, editing, designing, displaying, distributing, and analyzing all the content constantly put out by companies, universities, social networking sites, and academics takes a lot of time and effort by practitioners and academics under fire by Chief Financial Officers Wading through the amount of content that

When it comes to us as a class however, my mind starts thinking about how we as technical communicators work to gather, study, and disseminate information. Learning how to read, analyze, and write papers for my English undergrad along with internships for my Journalism minor made me an attractive, moldable candidate for the Technical Editor position I got shortly after graduating, but that position did not offer anything in the way of training documents or files.

It was entirely a mentor-based position. That was both a positive and a negative, I came to find as I delved into the world of technical editing. It was great to work side by side with practitioners who had years of experience in the field and in the government contracting sphere; I was exposed to a lot of insider information that no one bothered to write down because it was industry standard or specific. There were breakdowns in email content based on the office I was contacting and the military or civilian title in front of the person’s name.

Image result for mentorship

Source: (http://tweakyourbiz.com/finance/2015/03/16/top-online-business-mentorship-advice-resources/)

I learned quickly and started keeping my own folders and Word docs with acronyms, workflows, and Department-specific language no one would ever use (and I would get graded down for if I showed any of it to one of my professors).

The problem was that as soon as I was hired, the company started to lose employees. When I was hired I was told it was a stable contract with no turnover but everyone was leaving so all of the great mentors were jumping ship and it was up to those of us who were newer to train employees and help them learn the process.

So while we were learning we were also training new people, designing SharePoint sites, and teaching classes to government employees. Needless to say, the situation could have better. It was enjoyable to take more of a leadership role with incoming coworkers and I also got the chance to design a few training sites and standard operating procedures. Whatever problems I may have had with the company, it was clear that I had been allowed to really grow into a role and put on the different hats expected of me by the field.

My next job was a different story. I had walked into a great company with an understanding boss, but the work itself functioned on a sink or swim basis. I was expected to dive into the work and start working. No real oversight. Clear cut design and structural rules to follow but how I got there was all up to me. Yes, I was encouraged to reach out with any question but I wanted to make a great first impression so I just got my hands dirty with the research, writing, and designing of technical materials and documents for client approval.

The chapters talk about information design, content management, and the rhetoric of technology, but how do we use this in our full- or part-time job lives? For me, it’s become critical to seek the keys to staying up to date on information, technology, communication, and other trends essential to my work and moving forward in the field.

Citation

Spilka, Rachel. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication. “Information design: From authoring text to architecting virtual space. Taylor & Francis Group. New York, NY.

Understanding Social Media Stakeholders and Their Needs

As I read through the Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making, Tweeting and Ethos, and Technical Communication Unbound articles there were two main concepts that really seemed to jump out at me – the idea of social media stakeholders, how those stakeholders use their social media tools, and how [as technical communicators] we may need to adapt our communications based upon social media channels.

SMpic1

The idea of stakeholder analysis is a way to analytically look at individuals who are impacted by a particular event/situation/problem/etc. and understand how they are impacted.  As technical communicators, by conducting stakeholder analyses we can better articulate the communication messages and more effectively design systems to better suit the stakeholder needs.  As Longo stated in her article on Using Social media for Collective Knowledge-Making, “technical communicators and teachers of technical communication are poised to understand content users now as producers and to work toward relationships between [information and communication technologies] and human interaction to design documents and content in this global context, allowing us to cross community boundaries” (2013).

This statement defines the importance around establishing stakeholders in order to build those relationships Longo describes.  If we can understand how those stakeholders use social media, we can in fact, better communicate and refine our messages to those individuals.   The following graphic by Meritus Media shows, at a high level, how many stakeholders there can be and drives out what they value.  How a customer uses Facebook is different than how an employee uses Facebook.  If we can begin to identify and analyze those stakeholders, we can truly begin those targeted communications that means something to our readers.

SMpic2

One thought, however, that was raised after reading Bowdon’s article on Tweeting an Ethos, was on how [technical communicators] use these channels.  As Bowdon found in a study he conducted, “[technical communication students] had trouble discerning and articulating the values of their various organizations, but all of the groups faced great difficult when trying to product content to post on Twitter and Facebook in order to keep up a consistent, meaningful presence on behalf of their organizations.  They were unsure how to translate that understanding into a Twitter or Facebook thread” (2013).  What this called out to me was that we, as technical communicators, need to be cognizant now only about stakeholders and how they use social media channels, but how we use social media channels to communicate with those stakeholders.

One of the biggest challenges for us will be to effectively use and communicate via social media channels.  To Bowdon’s point, delivering a message on a social media channel can be very different than drafting an e-mail or writing content for a Web site.  Learning how to translate our messages to a 140-character tweet and learning when it is most appropriate to use Facebook to share messages will become part of our skill sets that we will need to master.

SMpic3

Additionally ways to get hired by using LinkedIn

Rich Maggiani’s article, “Using LinkedIn to Get Work,” provided a lot of great ideas on how to use LinkedIn to get a job in the technical communication industry. After talking to a couple of my technical communicator mentors, I wanted to add a few more suggestions to Maggiani’s article.

Showcase your work

If you have started a portfolio of the technical documents that you have created, get permission to post them online. Once you have that permission, add those documents to an area of your profile that makes the most sense. For example, I have created event flyers as well as work instructions. Because I want to focus on obtaining a job as a technical communicator in the medical field, in my Summary section (the very first section that you come to on my page), I have included a sample of the work instructions that I had created.

Additionally, in each section of my Experience area, I have included whatever appropriate document that best displayed my skills. Thus, not only can employers read about my skills and my experiences, they can also see my work samples too. This way, they can imagine what I can do for them to benefit their own company.

Now, do not forget that when you upload your document, it actually goes into a thing called “SlideShare,” which then gets posted into another public area as well. Be sure to use keywords in the description field, so that when someone searches for a particular document, your document can easily be found. Because of your document, you could be messaged to create a similar document for someone’s company.

Be humble by endorsing and recommending others

If you know people personally on LinkedIn, visit their profile page and click on the “Endorse” and “Recommend” links in the drop down arrow menu next to the “Send a message” button. You can endorse one of their skills, or you can recommend why that person is a wonderful employee/co-worker. Often times when you endorse or recommend someone, they will reciprocate the favor. By endorsing and recommending others, it shows that you are humble and a team player. When people endorse or recommend you, it shows others that there is proof to your claims about who you are and what your skills are. Employers do take these in to consideration when hiring.

Volunteer

I am surprised by how many people volunteer but do not put it on their resume or LinkedIn profile. Volunteering is great experience, no matter what it is. More over, many companies are always trying to show that they are apart of a community, so many companies will look for future-employees who have the same values of giving back to the community. As someone who has put together volunteering events for work, many people do not volunteer their time willingly or at all. Imagine a company trying to put on a charity event with very few employees helping out. That looks very poorly on the company and can possibly damage their reputation as a caring community supporter. So, if you volunteer, include that experience. If you have not volunteered yet, do it. Volunteering is fun and is a good networking experience.

Research the hiring manager

Of course, you will want to research the company that offered you a job, but to help get that job, you will want to ask who will be interviewing you. Once you find out who the hiring manager is, research them on LinkedIn to learn about them. Try to find things that you have in common and use that information to break the ice, or to somehow insert it into one of your answers to a question in the interview. The hiring manager will be impressed that you went to that much trouble to not only learn about the company, but about the people as well, and you will be more likely to receive a job offer. (I can state from experience, that this worked for me).

Conclusion

I hope that you found my four suggestions on how to further use LinkedIn to get a job helpful. I realized that showcasing your work, being humble by endorsing and recommending others, volunteering, researching the hiring manager are helpful in being hired. Hopefully, these suggestions will help you obtain a job too.

Where’s All of This Going?

Puppets

Chapter 6 of Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication was pretty alarming. The title of the chapter, “Human + Machine Culture: Where We Work” by Bernadette Longo is almost misleading considering where this chapter took me.

The concept of this “all-inclusive” community where there’s a general understanding of “normal discourse” that crosses cultures seemed a lot like most social media/networking platforms I’m familiar with. Longo went on to aruge that any community being all-inclusive defies reason, as exclusions are what define a community.

I believe that even the rejects remain part of the community because upon their exclusion, their existence and identity is still defined by the community they are not part of. As Jameson pointed out (pg. 157) regarding traditional “misfits” such as the homeless, “No longer solitary freaks and eccentrics, they are henceforth recognized and accredited sociological category, the object of scrutiny and concern of the appropriate experts, and clearly potentially oraganizable.”

Relating this concept to the virtual community, Longo mentioned Rheingold’s model of inclusive community (pg. 151) excluding people who can’t afford computers, the technological illiterate, and the “uncool”. I partially agree with this, but I also see Jameson’s point that the members of these three categories are still relevant to mainstream virtual culture.

There’s an abundance of philanthropic organizations dedicated to providing the needy with computers and the training they’ll need to use them such as Connecting for Good, Computers with Causes and Angie’s Angel Help Network. They consider themselves to be “closing the digital divide” and not allowing poverty to prevent people from being connected. These people are very important in digital culture, and helping them become part of it is seemingly paramount.

The “uncool” individuals that have gotten themselves isolated are typically those who spew hateful, and indecent comments/information online. They’re not as relevant as the needy that can’t afford to buy or learn to use a computer, but they’re often the subject of criticism, mockery, and cautionary tales.

For example, I remember the rising reality TV star Tila Tequila who ruined her career with a series of blog posts sympathizing with Adolf Hitler calling him “a man of compassion”. She started out as a MySpace celebrity, and starred on a dating show called “A Shot at Love”. She released an album as a recording musician, and began appearing on reality TV shows more frequently.

In 2013, she began her Hitler blog and was immediately kicked off “Celebrity Big Brother”. I haven’t seen her on any show since, and the word “crazy” follows the only references I hear of her name. She is still part of the virtual world, she’s simply in an unfavorable category with her own following.

Aside from all of this, the “techno scientific categories of legitimated knowledge” Longo equated to the word of God in Western society is what shook me up. Katz’ example of the role technical communication played in Nazi Germany (pg. 155) really opened my eyes to the power technical communicator’s actually have.

He elaborated, “expediency is the only technical ethic, perhaps the only ethic that pure rationality knows”. On page 157, Longo elaborated on Jameson’s argument that, “We find ourselves—a situation in which the ethos of multinational corporations and technoscience profoundly shapes our lived experiences and therefore what we will find persuasive.” They even go as far as helping us relate it to nostalgic concepts we may or may not have even experienced.

As a member of this “all-inclusive virtual community” I do feel the control of the multinational corporations and technoscience influences. There are times I wonder if the options and information presented to me as acceptable are actually the best, but as Longo stated (pg. 164), “We [accept this] because we desire the benefits we derive from these positive aspects more than we reject the negative effects”. I agree with this completely.

My concern is how this situation will evolve. Who are the elitists running this puppet show, and what’s their ultimate goal? Technical communicators do as they’re told, they’re creating the content, but they’re following instructions. It seems as if this super elitist group has immeasurable power, and it will only get stronger through time. Who is holding this super power accountable? More importantly, who are they? The multi-cultural, all-inclusive community is real, and we’re at the mercy of these faceless puppet masters.

Wiki… Wikipe… Wikipedia!

Thriving online.  This brief, but astute concept really makes me step back and re-read it over and over again to really try and understand if it is even possible to thrive online.  In this day in age, when we are so seemingly inundated with information – how can we possible muddle through it all?

In reading the Net Smart How to Thrive Online by Howard Rheingold, there were two primary components that I really honed in on.  One of the primary concepts was this idea around attention literacy, which the phenomenon of multi-tasking and online activities in search of information.

For example as I was writing this blog post for this week, I was looking up a few thoughts on my end idea and while I had those pages up on Google Chrome, I went searching for what a used pop-up camper might cost (I just in fact had a conversation where I was thinking about possibly purchasing one from a friend).  I then went back to find more resources for my post, but then I started wondering – what if the camper is dingy inside?  Can I remodel a pop-up camper?  So I went online hunting to find if others had this same thought and what ideas they might have had in redoing their pop-up camper (as you’ll find below – there are some neat ideas out there).  I finally told myself I had to stop and get to writing my blog post or I was not going to get it done – but then I had to wonder about how I would pull the camper since my vehicle is clearly in a dark place, I would need something different in order to make that happen…

scatteredthoughts
Scattered thoughts (Source: Ironically from a site called Wikimedia)

This image – clearly marks this idea of gaining proper attention towards our online use.  But I think, even in my brief example, we can see how having an information genius at our fingertips can really have an impact on this natural “task switching” tendency we have as humans (Rheingold, 2014).

The second concept was equally as intriguing for me to ponder and that was around this idea of “crap detection” (Rheingold, 2014) on the internet.  As Rheingold put it, the rule of thumb for crap detection “is to make skepticism your default” (p. 77).

crap detector
Source: Natalie Dee

But as I read through these thoughts, one of the most interesting correlations I had was this idea of Wikipedia and interchanging that with crap detection.  Now I am assuming everyone reading this will know what Wikipedia is, but if not, it is essentially an online free encyclopedia tool.  One of the arguments that Rheingold makes in his book, is the idea of creating and developing online collaborative tools and social communities.  In fact, Rheingold goes on to say that “web-based tools are particularly important because wikis enable people to collaborate in ways that challenge basic assumptions underlying modern economic theory and contradict older stereotypes regarding human motivation to cooperate.”

This is even more thought provoking as we think about how Wikipedia is often viewed – especially in academia.  Without a doubt, Wikipedia is one of the most accessed online tools for gathering information, but we often here from professors that in academia world, Wikipedia is not a credible source.  In fact, even Wikipedia says that they are not as they state on their site, “citation of Wikipedia in research papers may be considered unacceptable, because Wikipedia is not considered a credible or authoritative source.”  One of the underlying concerns is the amount of editing rights people have – essentially anyone can go in there and edit it.

But what if it were a credible and authoritative source of information?  According to Rheingold, this online social network can in fact be a greater asset in terms of collective action.  And let’s not forget about the Encyclopedia books we had for year’s growing up.  I think I had the same Encyclopedia set in my house for over 15 years.  How is that useful and correct information?

But the big question is in the long-term, will Wikipedia become an established tool / credible source that can be used to collect accurate information?  Or do you think we will not ever feel like this would be a credible source from a social network perspective?

Trying my best to not spoil the broth!

As a professional in the world of technical communication, I often wonder what my role really means for the organization.  When people ask me what I do, I often pause and respond with some generic phrase like, “I decipher geek speak for non-technical people”.  But, at times I am in the business of marketing our department to the rest of the organization.  At other times, I am compiling “How To Instructions” (when I can get away with it).  But I often wonder at what point in time does one cross the line between technical communicator, to support help, or even to technical subject matter experts (SMEs).   And this idealism off too many cooks in the kitchen seems to ring true from a technical communication standpoint.

cartoon

I am always asking questions and trying to drive out more information from technical SMEs.  In return I am cornered with negative responses and many people not understanding why I’m asking the questions I am asking.  Or, my favorite, telling me that no one actually needs to know that (because technical professionals are so good at putting into human terms what they really need to say.  But for me this is where Dicks (2010), identifies that technical communication is developing and changing in a number of different ways (p. 58).

I personally believe it is this change, this evolution that may be causing angst for many newer generation technical communicators. Many organizations have to spread out responsibilities and for some organizations; technical communication is a fairly new commodity (especially if they are not delivering some type of technological solution to the consumer world).  In the case at my organization, internal technical communication is fairly new and while our primary product is food related, technology is still at the core of our business functions.

I particularly find the following graphic interesting as well when it comes to this concept around both the change that technical communication is unfolding within organizations today and the correlation with “too many cooks in the kitchen”.

inforgraphic-learnmax

This graphic is based on products by LearnMax (2015), a company who specializes in technology training.  But for me it is the categories that truly resonate with the different areas of technical communication that I see quite often.

As technical communicators we need to have a baseline knowledge of what we are writing/communicating about.  Unfortunately we cannot always trust the SMEs to know what we need and why we need.  It’s this type of information that I believe drives technical communication.  Dicks (2010) further states, “reshaping [our] status will involve learning technologies and methodologies such as single sourcing and information, content, and knowledge management, and then optimizing information development of multiple formats and media” (pg. 55).

  • This statement not only aligns with the knowledge management aspect, but also with regard to the training aspect.
  • Optimizing our information for multiple formats hones in on this idea of enterprise mobile and writing for mobile device – not just shrinking our information to fit on mobile devices
  • We are also there for the customer – whether it is for an internal customer or an external customer.

Ultimately this all aligns with content development, as shown in the graphic above.  It should be our goal to customize our content not only for formats and media – but for our audience.  Dicks (2010) calls out the value of our role in the following four categories: “cost reduction, cost avoidance, revenue enhancement, intangible contributions” (p. 61).  But I bring us back to my original example in my own situation – of too many cooks in the kitchen and refining the role of technical communication within organizations.

For example, the Information Technology Help Desk was at one point responsible for preparing our department intranet pages.  The content, design, and layout was all brutal.  In an effort to formalize this channel as a communication tool, I focused heavily on design and updating the pages so they seemed more accessible and inviting to staff.  Unfortunately, I would say that this idea / change in ownership of job duties has been a constant struggle.  At one point this group never wanted to give anything up, and yet at time if it’s not perfect it is used as an excuse to pass the buck off onto someone else.

So while we can theoretically lay out for management on how technical communication can provide value to the organization, how do we show value to our colleagues who might be more concerned that we are stepping on their toes?

References

Dicks, S. (2010).  Digital Literacy for Technical Communication.   In R. Spilka (Ed.), The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work, (pp. 51-81).  New York: Taylor & Francis.

Relying on Heuristics in Digital Communication

I spend nearly every work day reviewing science and engineering reports and memos. Virtually every one of them follow the same structure: introduction, methods, results, and discussion or IMRAD as it is sometimes called. IMRAD is a viable heuristic for what is historically a paper-based, long-form argument. (If it weren’t, it would likely not be so prevalent.)

I’m also asked frequently by the marketing department to review content for online distribution. To help them along and save myself significant substantive editing time, I’ve attempted to provide that department—some of whom are trained technical writers—with heuristics (what I call writing prompts or an outline of sorts) which they can use to author within the various information types they are responsible for. So far, I’ve developed heuristics for blog posts, social media posts, brochures, flyers, and so on.

They’ve come to rely on these heuristics, essentially canonizing them, which was never my intention. I’ve been thinking a lot about why this has happened and its appropriateness. I’m beginning to be cautious about developing heuristics especially for digital communication.

Paper-Based and Digital Communication Are Different

Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski wrote in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (p. 105) touched on this dilemma:

“One difference between paper-based and electronic communication is that the forms and designs of older analog media have been internalized and naturalized…Use, familiarity, and comfort within these newer information spaces are therefore, to some extent, generational, and technical communicators must now consider how to bridge these generational boundaries that are likely to express themselves as technological preferences.”

I suppose what I’m saying is that the bridge between paper-based (with their traditional heuristics) and digital communication (which lets admit can be a free-for-all) is not heuristics.

Moving Away from Heuristics

What I’ve come to realize is, when it comes to digital communication, heuristics are effective starting points, but should never take the place of authentic communication. By authentic communication, I mean communication conceived of and designed to serve its particular audience and the content itself. This is the opposite of content designed to meet a preset structure (such as IMRAD).

In other words, instead of developing heuristics for digital communication (e.g. “A blog post has these five components” or “The services page on your website should cover three things”), what if we simply approach each rhetorically? Dave Clark in Digital Literacy discusses the “rhetoric of technology” which he contrasts against IMRAD without using that concept specifically.

So, the next time the marketing team wants some help structuring digital communication in particular, instead of writing up a heuristic they can use over and over again, I’m going to write a set of rhetorical questions they can rely on.

The Relationship Between Technical Communication and Social Media

Chelsea’s Test Blog 2

The relationship between technical communication, social media, and even the use of Technology is becoming more and more apparent in our everyday lives.   As I was reading through the article The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media, it dawned on me how why this very topic is so important.

Software companies (like Microsoft) are incorporating in their new software releases, the capability to participate in social media much easier and without having to know how to write HTML5 code and still publish to the Web.  Let’s look at Microsoft Office.  As I draft this blog article, I now have the option to publish this article as a blog post right to my blog site.

Snapshot of Microsoft Word 2010 - Save and Send Features, Taken by Chelsea Dowling.

Snapshot of Microsoft Word 2010 – Save and Send Features, Taken by Chelsea Dowling.

Moreover, as Hurley and Hea demonstrated the impact of social media and technology is becoming even more prevalent within the medical field, where they provided an example of a 48-year-old individual who was punished for providing enough information about a patient that their identity was eventually revealed.   Might this explain the increasing Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations?   Just the other day, a friend’s mother who works as a dental hygienist was explaining the increased HIPAA training they are required to take each year.  In fact, EHR 2.0 published a presentation on Social Media Compliance for Healthcare Professionals.

But overall, one of the most striking points that Hurley and Hea eluded to in their article, was the importance of educating students and communication professionals around the critical theory aspects of social media.   While it is important to deploy social media in our own efforts / initiatives and to debunk the negative assumptions around the use of social media (Hurley & Hea, pg. 58), we also need to understand how / where these assumptions fit within our own situations.

Overall, I think this is one of the most important factors that we need to keep in mind.  For example, in my current social setting, I would say there is a large difference in how people of all ages use social media.  For example, being in such a rural area of Wisconsin, many Gen Xers and Baby Boomers  are limited to the amount of exposure they have to social media as well as limited to the desire to access that type of channel.   Therefore, as we begin to understand how we reach out to our stakeholders, we can use critical theory to allow us to “consider how social media fits into our professional lives” and be able to evaluate and use social media responsibly (Hurley & Hea, pg. 58).

Generational Technology Gap

Image from: How does social media as a technology affect sleeping patterns?
Posted on April 26, 2013 by insomnicacs

Hurley, E.V. and Hea, A.C.K. (2014).  The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media.  Technical Communication Quarterly, 23(1), pp. 55-68.

Writers, writiN & d NXT gnr8n n social media :P

text slang, emojis

In their article “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Tech Comm in the Age of Social Media” Hurley and Hea asked college student to reflect on the extent that social media influences writers and writing. As a whole, students were able to identity social media’s positive aspects such as staying connected to family and friends and its ability to generate hype over new products. On the other hand, students also agreed that social media generally influences writers to write carelessly and unfinished.

While I was not an English major, I do have an appreciation for good writing. Seeing postings with no particular point that incorporate emojis and shorthand slang make me cringe. Despite this, I agree with the article in that a thoughtful and active presence on social media can be beneficial and bolster careers. However, it made me question what implications will this type of writing have on our younger generations who have grown up with these types of communications?  

Besides proper spelling and grammar, penmanship is a concern of mine. I distinctly remember learning cursive in elementary school and laboring over a capital “Z” so I could write my crushes initials next to mine in the margins of my notebook. (For all of you who are wondering it would be SKJ + ZBS). While I eventually was able to master this skill and fill every space I could with our initials surrounded by a bubbly heart, it took time and perseverance.

Largely due to the excessive nature of my “doodling”, one of my friends told Zach and soon everybody in the class knew. To my disappointment, Zach did not share my feelings and that was the end of my third grade crush. While the love between us didn’t pan out, my love of cursive and penmanship did. My handwriting, (most of which is cursive) is something I pride myself on to this day. After a quick Google search, I discovered that many states are no longer are teaching cursive in elementary schools. While its not completely shocking, it is slightly disappointing to learn that good handwriting is no longer a vital form of commutation.

At the same time, I wouldn’t say that computers and our use of social media are entirely to blame. I simply find it interesting how communication has progressed and the effects it has and will have on writers of future generations. The digital landscape is evolving, and if we want to survive we have to keep up– emojis, shrt& & aL 🙂

Task-based communication: Should we change the online infrastructure?

Where do we come off knowing how a user will access the web? With Google, I can find something that’s deep within a site, and avoid all the crumbs to get to the page I wanted. In Spilka’s book, Ann Blakeslee makes the good point that technical communicators need to shift from “developing documentation based on what writers think their readers need,” to how they “will actually use the information to complete a task” (p. 216). Luckily, we expect repetition in both communication and online. So we can have the same information on more than one page on a website to make sure someone sees it, even if they skipped the two pages leading up to the page they sought.

That is the science. The art is how much to say and what to omit so as to keep the added value of visiting the site (so it’s not just ten pages of the same information over and over again). But, I think that’s a secondary concern. The first concern is to have a task-based infrastructure so that the audience can find what they’re looking for, and not have to sift through paragraphs of information. About the ‘how much to add where’ question, I think it’s a constant challenge to keep tweaking. From my personal experience, I’d rather have a straightforward answer to my query, and then I can dive into the hyperlink tunnel to find more answers if I so wish. That way I do get to know what the website has to offer, just not in a linear manner.

So should we change to a task-based communication? Yes. If you think not, I’d love to hear why; I am open to changing my mind on this if I hear a compelling reason.

Crowdfunding

Rheingold discusses three terms in great detail in chapter 4, “Social-Digital Know How: The Arts and Sciences of Collective Intelligence”: coordination, cooperation, and collaboration. To understand the differences between these components, Rheingold provides a great analogy, “You need coordination to dance, cooperation to dance with a partner, and collaboration to dance with a flash mob” (p. 153).

However, Rheingold provides a lot of rules and best practices (almost too many to categorize and remember) to understand the social digital know-how, including:

  • Four understandings needed to effectively deliver Web collaboration skills (p.149).
  • Eight design principles that successful groups use to organize and govern behavior (p.152).
  • Four descriptions of the related components of collaboration (p. 153-154).
  • Seven rules on what cooperation theory teaches us (p.155).
  • Five different ways that we can learn from collaboration theory (p. 155).
  • Three things needed in a model of how collaboration superpowers work (p.157).
  • Four collective intelligence tips (p.162).
  • Four “netiquette” norms (p.163-165).
  • Ten ways be a good virtual community organizer (p.165).
  • Six critical success factors for crowdsourcing/crowdfunding projects (p. 172-173). These factors are: vision and strategy, human capital, infrastructure, linkages and trust, external environments, and motive alignment of the crowd. 
  • Three factors for social production to work (p. 175).
  • Eight general principles that capture the essence of the open source process (p.176).
  • Five things needed to understand Wikipedia (p. 185).
  • Four steps on how to contribute to Wikipedia (p. 185-186).
  • Thirteen words of advice about wiki collaboration in general (p.186-187).

I don’t know where to begin or what to write for this week’s blog – I am overwhelmed. I’m interested in gamification and what it can do, but my manager is more interested in augmented reality. While I enjoy using Wikipedia, I have never contributed or edited a topic. And I have never played World of Warcraft. In flipping through the pages in the chapter again, crowdfunding grabs my attention.

Rheingold provides 5 examples of crowdfunding; each is described below.

Spot.us “allows journalists to pitch stories they would like to pursue and enables individuals to pledge financial support; pledges are held in escrow until the journalist’s goal is reached” (p.172). However, they are no longer accepting new pitches or donations. They claim to be reassessing their business model and that the evaluation will be completed by June 1, 2014, but they provide no additional information on the results of their evaluation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kickstarter.com “permits anyone to define a project in need of funding, set the rewards […] for different funding levels, and establish a monetary and time goal” (p.172). From here, you can search for projects according these categories: art, comics, crafts, dance, design, fashion, film & video, food, games, journalism, music, photography, publishing, technology, and theater. I’m drawn to the journalism project, and am excited that it is a project in my great state of Texas. The Rio Grande Rift – Print Issue #1

Kiva.org “matches microbusinesses in the developing world with microlenders” for as little as $25 (p.172). There are four steps in this process: choose a borrower; make a loan; get repaid; repeat. I search for Austin, but there are no requests. There are 59 requests in the United States. The other country that jumped out at me is the Phillippines with 1,296 requests.

Inuka.org “enables lenders to microfinance projects by women in sub-Saharan Africa” (p. 172). This is a dead link. I was able to find it on crowdsourcing.org, but even the link the link listed under URL does not work.

DonorsChoose.org “allows classroom teachers to post requests” (p.172). From here you can search from the following things that teachers need for students: art, books, math, science, field trips, match offers, project of the day, and projects near me. I’m curious to see what the schools located in Austin need (if any are listed), and am surprised to see that my younger son’s elementary school has two requests listed–one from his former kindergarten teacher. I had no idea this site existed and plan on making a donation.

I’m happy that looked up the examples that Rheingold provided in the chapter as I was able to find some crowdfunding opportunities in my city. I challenge you to also visit these sites and see what opportunities are available in your geographic location.

 

FrameMaker conversion to DITA

Digital Literacy for Technical Communication was written specifically for me! Many items described in the first two chapters—recent introduction of Darwin Information Typing Architecture (DITA), structured authoring and reuse, implementation of a content management system (CMS), transition of job and team titles, and participating in agile development methodology—affect me directly.

Job title and team name transitions

Digital technology has personally changed my job, job titles, and team name in less than two years at Hewlett-Packard. In July 2013, I started as a contract technical writer on the Technical Publications (Tech Pubs) team.

Four months later, I was converted to a full-time employee and my job title was replaced: information developer. Around this same time, my manager decided that our team would be called Information Development (Info Dev).

Last May, our division was restructured and our team name changed for a third time; we are now called Content Development and Delivery (Content). Moreover, since I managed the FrameMaker conversion to DITA project, I plan to renegotiate my job title at my annual performance review next month to information architect.

We also work on small teams (based on our product offerings) that incorporate the agile development methodology.

FrameMaker conversion to DITA

This past year, I championed a project—including tracking and documenting the entire process—that converted our FrameMaker product library into DITA.

What is DITA?

In Saul Carliner’s chapter “Computers and Technical Communication in the 21st Century”, he describes DITA as an XML-based architecture that divides content into small, self-contained chunks of information that can be reused into several different communication products (pg. 42).

The highest structure in DITA is a topic: a single XML file. DITA has three main topic types: concept, task, and reference. In her book, Introduction to DITA Second Edition: A Basic User Guide to the Darwin Information Typing Architecture, Including DITA 1.2, JoAnn Hackos defines the three topic types with questions:

  • Concept: What is this about?
  • Task: How do I?
  • Reference: What else? This information may also include APIs, error messages, or command line reference lists.

All of the DITA topics can then be assembled, prioritized, and collected into a DITA map—basically a Table of Contents.

High-level process

Our FrameMaker conversion to DITA process included the following high-level steps:

  1. Evaluate and select an XML editor. We looked at MadCap Flare, AuthorIT, XMetaL, and oXygen. After much debate, we selected XMetaL.
  2. Conduct a content inventory to identify and prioritize which FrameMaker books to convert. In addition to documenting software, we also document hardware, and decided to keep these guides in FrameMaker—it’s static content that does not change very often. We also decided to keep our legacy software releases in FrameMaker and only converted the latest version.
  3. Clean up the source FrameMaker files as much as possible before the conversion to ensure that just the right amount of information was included within a given Heading. Not all of our existing content was consistently structured to contain one concept, one procedure, or one set of reference information. We determined that the PDF generated from FrameMaker would be our source of record to verify that all content was correctly converted.
  4. Create and run a Mif2Go script to convert every FrameMaker Heading into its own DITA topic. The script also attempted to accurately transfer every paragraph and character tag in FrameMaker into the respective DITA <element> tag. Our library of approximately 1,000 pages (in PDF) converted into more than 4,000 DITA files (topics).
  5. Using the PDF generated from the FrameMaker source file, open the DITA map (and then each DITA topic) to verify that all content was properly formatted. This step took a significant amount of time to do as all 4,000 files needed additional clean up and validation.
  6. Use WebWorks to generate output for a DITA map. We created custom stationery files (specialized CSS) that transfers every DITA <element> into a specific look and feel (i.e., paragraph and character style). We have two types of output: PDF and HTML.
  7. Implement a content management system (CMS) to store all of our DITA files. We selected SDL, and our team training on how to use it starts tomorrow!

Read the rest of this entry

Emerging from my “blog fog” to say farewell and thanks!

I have thoroughly enjoyed my investigation of using blogs in our Introduction to College Life classrooms, but I feel like I’m emerging from a “blog fog” and I can’t quite relate to anyone who’s not steeped in this subject at the moment.  My husband has learned to include the word “blog” in any conversation he attempts to engage me in – “Are we getting a Christmas tree blog this year?,” “Would you like scrambled or fried blogs?,” or “Have you talked to our son,Sam blog, this week?”

 But seriously, this was a great learning experience for me. I researched the use of blogs in university classrooms and designed a plan to use those findings to create a blog for our Campus Read program, which is just two years old.  Campus Read programs always list “building a sense of community” as a goal, and “community” is almost always listed as an adjective associated with blogs, so I thought it was a natural fit. One thing I learned, however, is that the community-building nature of blogs doesn’t automatically happen and that a great deal of work will have to be invested for my vision to materialize.

I gained this insight from reading about the Julie/Julia project, which was made into the movie Julie & Julia with Amy Adams and Meryl Streep in 2009.

Even though Julie Powell’s blog was very popular, visitors only reported feeling a “moderate” sense of community and the community dissipated when Julie Powell discontinued the blog. To the degree that people did report a strong sense of community, it was associated with the comments function of blogging – both writing and reading, which makes sense if you think about community as being dialogic. Anyway, if anyone is interested in reading more about the Julie/Julia project, I recommend Anita Blanchard’s article “Blogs as Virtual Communities: Identifying a sense of Community in the Julie/Julia Project.” You can retrieve the article here at the Into the Blogosphere series through the University of Minnesota, which offers a lot of great articles about blogging (http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/blogs_as_virtual.html).

 Aside from my insights about community, I learned a lot about my own campus’s policies and preparedness for 21st century learning.  Probably the most interesting insight I came away with is the degree to which we’re still groping with how to effectively use new media.  I read an article that described all of the “invisible” issues we might have to consider in creating a campus blog and initially I put it in the “not relevant” pile as I was sorting through my research.  It kept bubbling back up to the top of the pile as I had discussions with people on campus about how to implement a blog.  (You can read the article, “The When of New Media Writing” by Danielle DeVoss, Ellen Cushman, and Jeffrey Grabill at http:// www. Jstor.org/stable/30037897). It wasn’t that anyone was being obstructionist particularly, but with any large institution, people and departments aren’t always communicating or communicating clearly. As I put the finishing touches on my paper, I still wasn’t clear about what I might and might not be allowed to do with regard to technology, sometimes for practical technological reasons, and sometimes because of local, contextual constraints.  I hope I am being sufficiently vague.

 Finally, I just have to briefly mention the role of audience and blogging. Because of my role in our Writing Center, I knew that the concepts of blogging and having a sense of audience were linked, but I didn’t expect that I would spend so much time thinking and writing about it for my paper.  We always tell students to “imagine” an audience with certain characteristics and so forth and not to think of the professor as the sole reader, but that’s always a difficult exercise because ultimately, students know that their professor usually is the sole member of the audience. Having a blogging experience, though, can fundamentally change the way students think about an audience and motivate them to write—this was probably the main learning outcome I had from my research project, and it isn’t really the one I was prepared for, since I thought my main goal was to use blogs to develop a sense of community.

 Which leaves me to you, my “audience.”  This experience was very educational for me, and I want to thank you all for your support during my graduation to the 21st century (well, at least from elementary school to middle school!). It has been my privilege to take this course with you.

 And now, in a nod to Lori’s sendoff from Michael on “The Office,” I leave you with these words from Creed  Bratton’s Blog, also from “The Office,” apropos of the fact that we are now fully immersed in Wisconsin winter:

 “Almost winter. Time to turn my tennis racket into snowshoes.”

 Good luck to all on final projects!

Farewell and enjoy your winter break!

Seasons greetings!

I have now completed my final paper.  The topic I chose for this lengthy process involves technology, digital literacy, and the degradation of quality and rigor in student learning.

The title of my paper is The Ugly Side of Technology: A Breakdown of What’s Happening to Education and Strategies to Maintain the Quality and Rigor of Student Learning.  Below, I have posted my abstract.  Enjoy!

Technology affords people innovative learning opportunities, such as using digital tools to shape understanding.  However, it produces many adverse effects that can overshadow the benefits, including the degradation in the quality and rigor of student learning.  Unless parents and teachers take action, student learning will continue to suffer.  In a detailed analysis, the author discusses the growth of technology by acknowledging the digitally literate generation and discussing the digital literacy narrative of a young woman.  Next, the author highlights the benefits of technology, but contrasts them with the many negative effects technology causes on student learning, including the breakdown of reading for comprehension and the increase of multitasking.  Finally, the author provides strategies for both parents and teachers to help maintain the appropriate and necessary use of technology.  Parents and teachers must provide students with strategies so they realize that technology does not replace traditional learning and that digital literacy requires the same, if not more, rigor as traditional reading and writing.

Therefore, I say farewell and enjoy your winter break! I am glad to have shared the experience of this course with all of you and I hope to collaborate again in another course.

Happy holidays!

Social Media has a Place in Higher Ed.

smMy final paper presented social media as a form of emerging media that allows higher education faculty to enhance instructional methods.  It presented background information on what it means to be a digital settler, immigrant, and native, and specifically addressed how to consider teaching our many natives that come into the classrooms today.

I think my future recommendations nicely sum up some of the most important thoughts for educators to take with them as they embark on their use of social media to improve student engagement and success, so I will include them here in this final blog posting, too.

As more and more students come to us having grown up in a digital era, it is only fitting that we utilize their propensity for technology and social media and use it to our advantage.

Emerging media forms and digital technologies have changed our classrooms and online learning environments and the students who fill them.  Faculty of higher education institutions will need to continue to change with them in order to best serve the students and prepare them for the continually advancing digital world.

Social media tools can improve student engagement when used properly with learners, and faculty members can utilize varying social media forms to benefit their instructional methods.  Resisting the use of technology and social media for educational purposes may leave those educators falling behind in a time that will continue to address the needs of our digital learners.

With extremely accessible, network-based tools, technologies are more than ever empowering students to create, customize, and share content with us and each other online.  This digital era and emerging forms of media open up to educators new opportunities for us to implement socially enriched pedagogies because it can allow for varied means to encourage student interaction and strong ways to manage a collective body of knowledge.

Faculty who decide to utilize social media can begin to design a socially empowered learning environment for their learners, and this can lead to greater student success and retention.  Given the growing role of social media in education, it is vital for educators to gain knowledge, insight, and training for how to effectively use social media for instructional purposes; furthermore, they must know how to solve problems and consider negative risks before its use.

For faculty willing to recognize the powerof social media to transform learning,they are able to offer teaching and learning that allows learners to create, co-create, and share knowledge sometimes with a global audience beyond the classroom walls.

 

 

 

 

On a personal note:

Thank you to all for making this term such a valuable learning experience!  Take care!

Christin

Frames and Ethical Implications in a Digital Being World

This week, I was really into reading about “The Digital Being” as discussed in regards to the Being Frame.

I became engrossed in the idea of how ever-growing and expanding ranges of technologies “continue to sweep over culture and into our organizations” so much that as noted, practitioners and scholars must learn to understand and address the ethical implications (241).  One way, according to Digital Literacy this week, is to understand the ethical frames of technical relations.   And I could not help but think here about Mr. Clinton for some reason, denying any “relations” with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.   It is just where my mind unexpectedly wandered when I read the word relations.   I suppose in the context of living in a world where we now must consider our technical relations in addition to our personal relations, it does seem appropriate to connect to the idea of ethics and how this inevitably will always come back to any relationship we have.

One of the most powerful ideas, for me, was this about our digital being from Katz and Rhodes: “Digital being has enabled us to forget that our values, our thinking, and our work are heavily defined by our technology, and that much of our life now exists outside our flesh, essentially in digital bodies” (239).   Suddenly, just after reading this, I had a vision of my family, friends, and colleagues as these digital beings, and then I thought, how much of their real selves do I really know?  What ethical implications does this have on my relationships and the way we might treat each other?  Do their digital beings treat others differently than their flesh selves?   I basically sat with lots of questions on my mind, and I saw the world almost in a very Matrix-like fashion where I am not sure who the real person is when I meet someone compared to the digital person.

Another idea developed under this one is that the digital being has now taken over in a way that we are not as capable as people of the past, and our “digital machines have literally replaced our ‘mental storage’ of ‘information’…” (239), especially when it comes to the workplace and writing.  The specific example was how new employees struggle with writing and spelling because we are so programmed to use spell-check and grammar check systems that we no longer store the necessary information to become efficient writers.  I see this with students, also.  I also see it in math with the use of calculators.  I have a friend who teaches math prep courses, and she tells me often of students who do not know their multiplication tables without the use of a calculator (these are adult learners.)   And so now, I see that their digital being has learned these skills in a digital fashion, and when stripped of the technology tool, they are left lacking fundamental skills to survive in the work world and world in general.  Are we to expect that is okay because it is the way they have learned?   I find a little bit of an ethical struggle right here alone.  What is the responsibility of humans today in these contexts?

The other ethical frame I want to address briefly here is the Thought Frame and quickly tie it into the Digital Being.  The last questioning thoughts from the section on “Thought  Frame” really had me thinking about my organization: “Does your organization conceptualize or refer to communication as a transmission of information from sender to receiver? Does it regard emotional response in the workplace as noise in the system?” (237).    If we are very much defined by our digital beings in the workplace, and we communicate via email, videos,  webinars, podcasts, social media, and texting more than we do f2f, isn’t it much easier to become just a receiver in the system?   When our authentic selves present an emotional response to something, do we just become noise that interrupts the system?  When are we allowed to present our deep, meaningful self versus our digital being?  Is there a more appropriate time for one than the other?  I find that I am weighing heavily how technology has changed relations and ethics together on a very basic human level: how we see how our selves and how we then communicate with each other.

Cross Cultural Communication Requires More Than Simple Translation

This week's readings remind up that effective intercultural communication requires more than simple translation. http://www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/35857.html

This week’s readings remind up that effective intercultural communication requires more than simple translation.
http://www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/35857.html

Probably the most interesting reading for me this week was “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures” by Barry Thatcher, though I found all of them pretty interesting. One of the reasons I found Thatcher’s piece so interesting is that at my school we’ve been trying to increase our international student enrollment, and I’ve always wondered (on the periphery of my brain) how our website must appear to people of other cultures and countries.  For example, we have a partner school in Wuhan China, the South Central University for Nationalities, where we recruit students to enroll in our Master of Science in Education with Emphasis in English.  I decided to go to their website to see if and how it might differ from ours―and so much of what Thatcher explained held true!

For example, there were no pictures of people on the SCUN site, and not nearly the sheer number of pictures that we have on our website so this is an example that in studies “more diffuse websites had relatively few pictures” and perhaps the concept that the public space of a website is “not the appropriate medium for something as private as a picture” (of a person) (p.187). Also, there are a few pictures of major icons, historical buildings, a panda, and a few nice views of the campus, so this is an example of research that on Chinese Web sites “drew complexly on icons of Chinese heritage to display the significance of the collective whole (p. 187). Also, take a look at the “Accommodations” page:

It’s a clinical picture of the accommodations, with no indication of people.  Compare it to the main Residence Hall page of my school’s website, where all of the pictures focus on students:

So, in thinking about our own website, we could not probably repurpose it for meeting the needs of our primary recruiting demographic (18.1 year olds who are largely from Wisconsin), but I wonder if we might create an alternative version for international students. In fact, SCUN has such a version.  Both of their websites are in English, but one is clearly meant for Western, native speaking English people and the other would be for a more localized audience. It seems the best way we might do this, according to Ann Blakesdale in “Addressing Audiences in A Digital Age,” is to get “a full, accurate―and contextualized―understanding of their audiences.  One way to acquire this, which was addressed by all writers from my cases, is to interact directly with members of our audiences” (220).  So, I think developing a site and asking our current international students to interact with it would be a great project for us to recruit more students and serve their needs more successfully.

Keitai Culture

Japanese cell phone culture came up in more than one reading this week: in “Going Mobile,” and “Always on,” by Naomi Baron (135, 233) and “Implications of Mobility,” by Kenichi Ishii ( p. 348).  Baron says that the government was pretty effective in “transforming outdoor use of keitai from talking to overwhelming texting instruments” (233), mostly because of collective governance .  This results from the need to negotiate appropriate activities in public space.

However, no culture mentioned this week has been terribly effective in separating the boundaries of home and the outside world (symbolized by the tradition of removing shoes before entering the house in Japan and India, Baron, p. 230) when it comes to mobile devices.

Land Lines?

There was a lot of data to absorb this week, and I’m afraid I got distracted on numerous occasions, stopping to look things up (I suppose this is a good thing!), but nothing disconcerted me so much as the statistic in “Always On” that 51% of American teenagers preferred land line phones.  That just astounded me because I work with so many young people every day, 99% of whom seem to have cell phones, and I hardly ever hear of anyone interacting on a land line.  I thought maybe it was a function of the fact that the article was published in 2008, so I did some research and found this PEW study from cnet. com (http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57400439-93/teens-prefer-texting-over-phone-calls-e-mail/ ) that says that the number has indeed gone down.

This PEW study confirmed the trends we saw in this week's reading.

This PEW study confirmed the trends we saw in this week’s reading.

In this study, the number has gone from 30% in 2009 to 14% in 2012, so that seems more in line with what my daily experience tells me.  Fourteen percent still seems high, but I am dealing with a pretty homogenous demographic, so my experience is most certainly skewed.

Examining Our Assumptions

The discussion of intercultural communication this week came shortly after I was in a workshop for intercultural communication in which we were asked to reflect on some of the assumptions we make in our communications with our international students, faculty, and staff on a whole host of issues. The presenters showed this video, which I had seen before, but I still got a good laugh and good reflection out of it, so I thought I’d share: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajq8eag4Mvc

Phase Five (Not Complete) What’s Next?

As I think about readings this week, I am struck by the phases.  Carliner notes, “Over the past 30 years, technology has affected technical communications in profound ways” (29).  And indeed I stopped to consider this thought and the profoundness of the past 30 years and the ways in which technology has affected us.  For a minute, I just thought about my last 30 years, and then I thought about how many of those years I have been using technology.  Then I began to think more in depth about the five phases in this development of technology for technical communication.  I ended with questions:  what makes one a technical communicator? And what phase most affected me in profound ways?  What I found to be true is this (and this will date me): I have really only been fully involved in three of the five phases. The first two were periods of my life that were not necessarily times of my life when I was 1) aware of all the world’s technologies and 2) using them in my daily life was not something I connected to my literacy skills in the sense that I was learning how to become digitally literate.

I was growing up in “The Desktop Revolution”, so Phase Two would be the time I began to become literate in the use of computers.  By no means was I a technical communicator during this time, ancomputer-storage-timelined I was not “automating publishing tasks” in any way, shape, or form.   I was simply a child and then a teenager in the 80’s and the 90’s.  So, yes, I am a child of the eighties, and I did not own a desktop computer during this phase of my life, and now reading about this aspect of that time period made me think quite a bit about the technology changes that were rapidly occurring around me.   I did, however, immediately connect to some of the technical aspects that I read.  As a matter of fact, I felt a certain sense of nostalgia when I began to read about the first PCs in the early 1980s, which used 5.25 diskettes.   I remember the diskette clearly and vividly.  I know what it looks like, I remember what they felt like, and I held them in my hands when I was in elementary school.  What I could not have told anyone until now is that those disks only held 360,000 bytes of information.  Then when I read that “by the end of the 1980s, systems had internal hard drives with up to 50MB of storage capacity,” I began to really connect to the phase of my life that I clearly remember using PCs: the 1990s.   Floppy_disk_2009_G1

From Phase Three: The GUI (Graphical User Interfaces) Revolution, I remember mostly this major development mentioned by Carliner: “…the movement of the Internet from a limited-use network by those working in the defense industry and at universities, to a ubiquitous communications network” (37).   It was this phase of my life that I was just beginning to feel the omnipresence of the Internet.  Wow!  I had never seen anything like this world of information before, and now to consider the implications of how this medium affected communication really causes me to pause for a moment and appreciate the enormity of the Internet.  I also found it quite interesting to reflect on this idea that the “rise of the browser” also created standards for sharing information.  Sharing information during this time period was not the same as it is today.  The standards for sharing information continue to evolve as we enter new phases of technological advances.  This makes me think of Netiquette rules I share with my students.  While these go bwwweyond standards for sharing information, they arose from the same concept: a set of standards needed to address working in an online environment, much to do with sharing information.  Furthermore, even the idea that some organizations did not necessarily want to download the plugins needed to run video and sound at the time intrigued me because now we function in a world where, I find, plugins are accepted as a natural part of the system.  There might be some reluctance to download them, but for the most part, anyone using a computer or technological device knows that plugins are part of the deal.

From Phase Four: Web 1.0 came the power of the Internet and the World Wide Web among other things.  I fully remember exploring the WWW, and now reading from the perspective of how it profoundly affected the world of technical communication, I am struck by how rapidly people were changing with the technology.  Email made its emergence as the primary means of interpersonal communication, and it continues to thrive in the business world and, for me, the educational arena.  But now I cannot remember exactly where I read it (maybe from last week’s readings),  it seems that more and more often other emerging methods of communication are becoming the mode for newer generations, such as texts, tweets, and live chats.   When I think about my own email communications, they have taken over much of my world, and yet, I long for good ol’ face-to-face talking.   I have a love-hate relationship with email these days.  I love communicating, but sometimes I would rather just pick up the phone or visit the person.  Another aspect of this phase that I can easily connect to is the ability to display ever-changing content and increased capability to display both audio and visual content.  When I think about how and when I first began using the Internet, I was in awe of the content available, and now thinking about how the technical aspect of it all was developed, I have a greater appreciation.  I simply learned then that a hyperlink was a clickable link, and navigation bar was at the top or side of a page.  I now know that those features were by design.  The interface was changing and becoming what it is like today while I was learning to use the Internet and explore the Web.  I could not have told you what HTML code was when I was living in this phase, but I can now.  I must select to work in HTML or not in most messages I compose and most assessments I create. Before I would not have had a clue what that meant.

Finally, Phase Five: Web 2.0 is the time of my life I most connect to my technical communication skills.  I was fresh out of college in 2001, and I had my first professional job at my current institution, but I was only part-time then.  I began working and using a computer daily at work.  As I progressed in my career, I became more and more responsible for using technology to communicate with students, staff, faculty, and others.   In my personal life, I heard about MySpace, although I did not get it at first….I thought, “What the heck is MySpace?”  And of course, I was drawn to social media as a form of communication.   Back at work, I was communicating via technweb2_0-y7zjhkology every day, and eventually I learned to use our Learning Management Content System and Learning Management System.  And at another point, I was in charge of creating a Writing Center webpage with our college web developer, so I would say I was the content provider for the web page.  Honestly, I did not know how to develop web content; I had to learn to do so.   I also became familiar with the term Web 2.0 tools much later when I began taking classes in E-Learning and Online Teaching.  This phase for me really extended from the mid-2000s into my more recent years.  Web 2.0 tools really became present in my life when I was working on my graduate classes here at UW for that program.

On a final note, from Phase Five of my life and technology for technical communication came the blog and the wiki.   I am a bit embarrassed to admit I did not know that wiki originates from a Hawaiian word for fast, but now I do.   And I always think of Wikipedia first when I hear or read wiki.  This makes me find a way to connect to Qualman here.  He notes that “Wikimoocimagepedia proves the value of collaboration on a global basis (24).  I find that I have spent many phases of my life in collaboration, and more and more, this collaboration involves massive use of technology.  For instance, I am now involved in the creation of a MOOC for my college; this is a recent project I have been asked to join.  I consider myself a novice, and I am learning more and more as I go.  I am not sure I am a proponent of the MOOC, but I am forging ahead with the project in an effort to understand the MOOC and its educational value for varying audiences and populations.  I have only just begun, but I can say that from the blog to the wiki to the MOOC, I am constantly moving into a new phase of my technical communication.  I have lived through a wiki-world in a sense that everything seems to be moving so fast.  Each time I turn around, a new phase is starting somewhere.  It just keeps moving, and somehow I keep finding myself blogging or wiki-ing away.   BTW, my wiki experience is limited.  Yet again, another phase that I must explore more fully.

http://tjm.org/2013/05/

References

Carliner, S. (2010). Computers and technical communication in the 21st century. In Rachel Spilka (Ed.)  Digital Literacy for Technical Communication. New York: Routledge.

Qualman, E. (2009). Socialnomics. Hoboken, New Jersey- John Wiley and Sons.

Social Media=Today’s Relationship Cultivator

Social media has changed the world of relationships, both in personal and business relationships.  I was struck by two very important concepts: the sphere of influence (something I seem to be hearing about often lately) and the analogy of courtship and dating. The moment I read these ideas in Socialnomics Chapters Two and Three: Social Media=Preventative Behavior and Social Media=Braggadocian Behavior, I stopped and thought about the impact of social media, and I was indeed struck by thoughts about the scope of influence and impact of social media in our times…just like I am struck by the fact that spell check does not even recognize the words “socialnomics” and “braggadocian” as part of today’s word base.  Social media has changed the world of relationships and, furthermore, the world of language.sphere-of-influence

Before I delve deeper into the dating and courtship analogy, it would be beneficial to also bring to attention some key points of Chapter Two; how does social media cause preventative behavior and why is that so relevant to this idea of cultivating relationships or perhaps preserving our own relationships in some way?

I was immediately interested in this idea of “the sphere of influence,” and as noted, “The difference with social media is the speed and ease in which this [responding to customer unhappiness] occurs as well as the sphere of influence.”  Qualman introduces us to this concept in relation to how businesses will adapt their behaviors in response to customer dissatisfaction and frustration.  Now companies assign employees to find and handle customer complaints via social media. In essence, they seek and find the problem to avoid losing a customer, or better yet, to prevent that customer from posting a video or status that could potentially go “viral” and affect future customer base growth.

I was especially intrigued when I read the section about Comcast, a nemesis of mine.  I have had plenty a battle with Comcast, and had I known that I should simply post a rant on Facebook or post a YouTube video to get someone to contact me instead of waiting endless hours on the phone and getting frustrated, I might have done so, but it never occurred to me to complain via social networking.  If I knew that the company might reach to me to repair a broken relationship because I might spread bad press to others in my sphere of influence (or followers,) I might have tried it just to see if it worked.  I found that Comcast cares (see ComcastCares article). I am still in disbelief that a Comcast member would seek me out when I have a problem.  I am not sure I believe this yet. I am left wondering if it would still happen today or if Comcast has grown too big to care since Socialnomics was published in 2009.  Should I try it the next time I want to “break up” with Comcast and see if my date comes calling?

Back to the sphere. Social media is much about followers, and the more followers one has, the more influence one might have on those followers.  I can see how companies must be in tune with their customers’ use of social media.  Company behavior definitely changes in light of this new method of sharing positive or negative feedback.

Those same followers and members of our social media sites can also “see” and read our every move.  Social media does force preventative behaviors beyond just companies altering how they treat their customers…as described in Chapter Two, students, teachers, parents, and more must be aware of what is placed “out there” for the world to view. Social networks are “powerful enough to cause an adjustment in personal and corporate behavior on a macro level.”  Our relationships have certainly changed in this way. What do we want to share?  What ghosts do we want flying out of our closets? We must know and realize what could come back to haunt us now that social media has taken over.

Next, I was immediately drawn into Chapter Three’s “Are You on Facebook?” Is the New “Can I Get Your Phone Number?” section.  Wow! Talk about the evolution of dance!  How about the evolution of dating?  And taking this courtship idea into the world of business makes sense, too.

I was entertained by the idea that we can become somewhat creepy if we present to people that we already  “know” them on a first date because we have already “Facebooked” him or her.  Qualman notes that the first date could actually feel more like a fourth date now that we do not have to “court” each other because Facebook offers that preliminary information we want before we even get to the dating part.   This is not how I grew up dating.  I did not Google anyone or Facebook anyone or Tweet anyone while I was dating.  It is weird to me to think that might be the norm now for courtship….I guess I am a true face-to-face romantic at heart…but if I could have Googled some of my former dates, I probably would have avoided one or two of them totally.

I really enjoyed this analogy in terms of dating and businesses.  Many businesses try to suck customers into their homepage via social media.  They become the creepy dates.  Qualman writes, “It’s analogous to meeting a pretty girl in a bar and asking if she would like a drink. When she responds, ‘yes,’ rather than ordering her drink from the bartender, you grab her and rush her into your car and drive back to your place; because after all, you have beer in your fridge. This is not a sound courtship strategy….”  Now that would be creepy… “Hi, may I buy you a drink?  Okay, come get in my car and come to my house.”    Thanks, but no thanks!  I am not really into jumping into cars with strangers.

I really see that both personal and business relationships have been so very affected by social media, and part of me longs for simpler days with less technology involved in our relationships, but these two chapters really had me thinking about all of this…and I am just so not socially connected compared to younger generations growing up in a world with constant status updates and posts and videos and tweets and all of it.  I can only handle so much information streaming into my life from friends and family.  I am married, so I get actual updates in person from my husband…no real courtship going on there anymore (just good ol’ husband and wife conversation).

There was so much in these two chapters that I am taking with me.  Two more key points that really grabbed my attention from Chapter Three included Assess Your Life Every Minute and The Next Generation Can’t Speak.  Social media makes me feel like I must assess my life every minute (and the reading here supported this feeling), but I am so involved in working, schoolwork, and taking care of my family that I cannot keep up with my own social media. I don’t. I am lucky if I check Facebook more than twice a week; it becomes a weekend activity most of the time. Now with my Smartphone, I can do it more easily, but, honestly, I do not want to read constant status updates that feel superfluous to me at times, never mind trying to post the tasks and routine activities of my days and nights.  Why post this: “I am so tired I could just fall over right now”?   Do my family and friends need to know this?  Will I even remember the context of that post long days from now?  Probably not.  But most of my friends and some family members post these updates multiple times a day.  I find much of the “all about me, me, me” braggadocian behavior present in the status updates of my younger cousins (all young adults in college at this time.) I love them just the same; they have less complicated lives than I do, so I even envy their ability to find importance in posting the fact they are going to get a coffee from Starbucks (I end up thinking: wouldn’t that be nice right now?

I did, however, think about how social media allows me to go back and review life’s minutes (I LOVE this idea.) When I do post, they are definitely the moments I want to capture.  I love the idea of somehow scrapbooking my year in status updates…I am sure there is an app for that somewhere.

Finally, it is difficult for me to spend much time writing about how the next generation cannot speak because I am teaching them daily.  I see it in every form of communication I have with them, and my instinct is to try to help communication then and now meet in the middle somehow.  The entire section from the book had me thinking about how to address their needs in every communication arena from chat to email to personal face-to-face interactions.  And I could not believe that public speaking is feared more than death these days….Whoa!  A fear greater than death…that is a giant fear, and I can actually sympathize because I was secretly feeling better about myself when I read that fact.  Put me in an auditorium or room of more than 30 students (whom I can control) and I am “outta” there.

And so, I know two very important things right now:  no one is viewing my social media sites in an effort to date me (just not happening).  Furthermore, now that I know some businesses might treat people like dates that they wish to continue seeing and courting, I am going to think about how this impacts daily living and business relationships of all sorts.   As my grandmother would say if she were here, “Interesting, very interesting.”

P.S. – My grandmother never Facebooked anyone in her entire life, and part of me wishes I had her life in status updates, so I could keep them forever as an example of real “courtship”.   She and my grandfather would have had the best status updates…I can “hear” them now!

Gram and Pop Vintage

References:

Qualman, E. (2009). Socialnomics: How social media transforms the way we live and do business. Hoboken, N.J., John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

slideshares on blogs

Here’s some food for thought regarding the many uses of blogs. In fact, I’ll probably link to these popular slideshare presentations the next time I assign the blog literacy “test post” because I think they cover a lot of ground.

and

I do wonder why the “11 advantages” presentation took 65 slides and the “25 styles” one took 28 slides, but the thing with slideshare is remembering that these slides were created for actual presentations and their authors chose to share them here after the fact. So maybe the 65 slides were used as background while the presenter was extemporaneously speaking to the audience about the topic at hand?

Either way, enjoy and let me know what you think!

Blogging: My Newest Frontier

Originally, I thought I would start this post off by confessing that I have absolutely no experience with blogs, but that turns out to not be entirely true.  While it is accurate that this is my first post—yeah!—it turns out I’ve been reading blogs and not even realizing it. In reading “Searching for Writing on the Web,” Alex Reid lists the top 25 blogs and I am very familiar with 3 of them—The Daily Beast, Think Progress, and the Huffington Post.  Now that article is dated 2011, and 2 years is like a millennium in Internet time, so I don’t know if they’re still in the top 25, but it was comforting to realize I already knew something about blogs.

But not much.  For example, a former student of mine recently got hired to write a twice-weekly blog about holistic dentistry, and I didn’t quite understand why since, as far as I knew, she knew nothing about dentistry, holistic or otherwise. From her description, she is mostly serving as a “tipster,” about how to engage in holistic care of teeth and alternatives to traditional dentistry.  She doesn’t have to be a content matter expert, but rather just do some basic research and engage the material in a lively and readable way.  So, I’m still struggling  a bit to understand this medium and it’s multifaceted purpose, but I am looking forward to the education.

In my case, my mind tends to want to skip the theoretical and go straight to the practical application, often to my detriment, so I think I’ll need to proceed slowly in thinking about what use I might make of my newfound knowledge after class ends. In Langwitches blog post “What does it Mean to Be Literate?” the author cautions teachers to engage in some basic blogging education including “pre-reading and pre-writing”  skills such as understanding how blog platforms work before attempting a blog in the classroom.  I’m definitely still at the pre-writing and reading stage.

When I do feel more comfortable with this medium, one use I’d like to make of it regards my role as the chair of our campus’s “Common Read Program.”  One of my tasks is to get the students, faculty, and staff engaged in a larger dialogue than simply in individual classrooms or book groups.  Last year, our Writing Center held an essay contest and the prompt was tied to the book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.  It was reasonably successful for a first-time effort, but I didn’t think the submissions really reflected the level of critical thinking we should be seeing from college students.

I’m wondering if a pre-writing blog might help students reflect on and clarify their thinking before they put pen to paper (keyboard to MS Word) for the essay contest?  “Learning with Weblogs: Enhancing Cognitive and Social Knowledge Construction,” suggests that “weblog technology fits with the constructivism learning theory, and argues that a weblog is a useful online tool for students to reflect and publish their thoughts and understanding.”  I can see some logistical problems already, however, such as the fact that we have about 1,650 students in our freshmen class alone, so I don’t know how exactly this would work.  I’ll be interested in learning more from my classmates and our readings as I formulate my goals and understand more about the medium.

By the way, our Campus Read book this year is Scoreboard, Baby by Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry.  It’s a very engaging read, and I highly recommend it.  I’m using this as an excuse to see if I can master the skills of downloading a graphic.

Scoreboard baby cover

As I wrap up my first-ever blog post and I read what I’ve written, I’m trying to discern if it reflects anything I’ve read in “16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners,” and I’m not entirely sure.  It seems clear that I’m writing for myself first, which is tip #2, so I suppose I’ve at least accomplished that. Another tip I read was “Get Ideas from Your Audience,” so I read my other classmates posts first and one thing I noticed is that, as a reader, I like bullet points such as those I read in “Testing, testing… What I’ve Learned from Blogging,” by sr hebert, so let me close with these points:

  • I’m very much looking forward to learning from my classmates
  • I feel a little more confident already
  • This course has already forced me to expand beyond my comfort zone because now I have both Skyped and blogged!

Best to you all!